Sourdough Pete

Way out in the Gibson desert, not far from Lake MacKay, at the end of a long day crossing the desert at an average speed of 20kph, I came upon an old man sitting by a campfire . His back leaned against the tyre of an ancient troopy. He was cooking something that smelled good. It was kangaroo stew and damper.

He introduced himself as Pete, and invited me to join him for a meal, which I accepted cheerfully, bringing out some canned fruit and creamed rice from my stock as a dessert offering.

His stew was really good. His damper was unexpectedly extraordinary. It tasted like the best sourdough bread I’ve ever had. Damper is usually made from self raising flour or using baking powder. I complimented Pete on the bread, and he told me he used raisins to make a starter dough. It seems the yeasts naturally found on the dried fruit were perfect for making bread. The starter fermented all day in the hot car as he travelled and was ready to bake in the camp oven at the end of every day.

He showed me how it was done. He opened an old pack, pulled out a bag of raisins, mixed some with flour and water in an old Tupperware container, and put it on the bonnet of his Troopy ready for the next day. Then he put the raisins beside the container on the bonnet. We sat down to share dessert.

As we ate, there was a whir of wings and a large crow landed on the car. Without hesitation, it grabbed the bag of dried fruit and flew away with it.

Pete watched the bird fly away with the resigned acceptance of one who is used to the vagaries and tragedies of life. “Ah.” he said philosophically. “There goes my raisins for leavening”.


I self-isolated first.

Late last year I deleted, or thought I deleted, my Facebook page. With that act, I cut myself off from over 90% of my daily social interaction. I had not realised at the time how significant this was.

I kept my Eric TDuck page, and my blogs, but they do not involve any conversations with others. That’s just me talking. I really don’t think many are listening. There is very little feedback, or indeed much indication that anyone reads my blog. Most of the ‘likes’ I get are from self interested bloggers pushing a product and farming followers.

It was not until a visit from my best and oldest friend, followed pretty quickly by the Coronavirus issue, that I realised how much my sanity depended on social interaction. Chatting, joking and exchanging views. And it was appalling to realise how much of the social interaction in my life was now virtual, with friends scattered across several countries, and very few physically nearby. That is, less than a week’s drive away.

Social distancing as a result of COVID19 did not change my life one iota.

If I plotted the location of all the friends with whom I stay in touch on a map of the world using blue dots for all those I have at some time actually met and interacted with, and green for those I’ve met through Facebook and never seen in person, by far the greatest number would be green, and the greatest concentration of blue would be around the great southern area of Western Australia. How did that happen?

Even so, it was through Facebook and Messenger that I had stayed in contact with most of these friends. I speak on the phone to only a few. I don’t write letters, and only a few emails. So. By deleting my Facebook page I had cut myself off from almost all of my friends, as well as the sexist, racist, fascist, ignorant twats who had driven me to despair.

The old nose and face conundrum.

I was surprised when, after following a news link which led to a Facebook post, I was offered the chance to log in as Eric TDuck (expected) or as myself (not expected).

So I got my page back. It seems I hadn’t deleted it. And with the return to sharing my thoughts, jokes, photos and political opinions came immediate conviviality and good wishes plus a little bit of the sanity I hadn’t realised I was losing.

Social Intercourse in the Time of Social Distance

Some of the coffee bars are open, with reduced hours, for take-away service only. Even baristas need to make a living.

Customers stand around outside the shop sociably spacing themselves in accordance with the regulations as they await their order. Some stay to sip and chat.

People who, in the past, would not have conversed with each other as they sat drinking their coffee and eating a croissant, now seek something to talk about. They seem fed up with being alone with their spouses and their thoughts. Assuming they have spouses, that is. The demographic is one in which the odds of that are probably 50/50.

The police have been busy enforcing the social distancing requirements quite strictly, it seems. As everyone stands well apart, they repeat the tales hey’ve heard, or read, such as of foolish people picnicking at a picnic table in a park somewhere who picked up a $1,300 fine for returning to the table after being told to disburse by the cops. There’s always someone. I wondered if they were fined as a bunch, or each. No one knew. I suspect the latter. This is Queensland.

What I find interesting is that I’ve had more friendly chats with strangers since the lockdown than I had in the previous six months. All at a respectful distance.

I thought of a cool social game to play with my neighbours. Chatting with a small accidental gathering on the road outside the caravan yesterday, I suggested we should all get our barbecues out, cook up something fun and then play musical barbecues, wandering from one to the other with a plate, to share the food. Then we could all return to a chair outside our own homes, sit, eat, drink a beer or wine, and chat.

It seems I’m the only one in this corner who has a barbecue. so much for that idea.

Interesting Times

I had a chat with the security guard at Aldi today. He looked bored.

I’d never even seen a guard there before. He was happy to talk, and quick to point out he was glad of the work. His main task is to count the customers and enforce the limit of 150 within the shop at any time. The limit was imposed by Them. Not sure who They are.

There have been no knife fights over toilet paper, mainly because Aldi doesn’t have any.

More and more shelves have growing empty spaces.

Quite a lot of shoppers wore masks. Mostly older folk, but a significant proportion were young. All the young ones were female.

In all the time I’ve shopped at Aldi I don’t recall seeing anyone ring up as much as a hundred dollars of groceries. A hundred dollars bought a lot at Aldi. Today I saw three people ring up over two hundred dollars worth in the space of fifteen minutes. All I went in for originally was some sparkling mineral water, fresh parsley (none available) a leek and some mustard, for a seafood pie I’m planning. I gave in to the temptation to hoard and bought a KitKat and a box of four lemon cheesecake-flavoured ice creams, Aldi knock off versions of the Magnum. Sweet.

Listening to the conversations around the shop and at the checkout. More and more people are becoming worried, and some are angry, because they say they don’t see what all the fuss is about.

Back to camp. My neighbours tell me they are going stir crazy. I remind them they are not confined, but they say they have nowhere to go, and feel they are.

I felt like giving them an ice cream each. But No! They’re mine!

We live in Interesting Times. It is the curse.

SAS Deployed in Brisbane as Unrest Increases in the Suburbs.

The newly formed Special Assembly Squad of the Department of Health had only just completed its inaugural training exercises, when a sudden upsurge in grumpy elderly people congregating at supermarkets necessitated their early deployment.

The SAS is manned by elite members of the Flying Hygiene Squad, considered to be the most highly trained Environmental Health Officers on the planet. The identity of the individual squad members is known only to their close family and the boys at the pub.

We spoke to an officer of the Corps, anonymous under his blue surgical mask and impenetrable dark glasses. He told us that the squad has been training with non-lethal means of subjugating grumpy old bags and petulant old codgers, as well as a few stroppy young mothers with crappy little babies.

“Though the temptation to use lethal force can be overwhelming, especially when one sees the weeping remains of a checkout lady writhing and wailing on the floor, suffering extreme PTSD, we mostly stick to our aerosol cans of Glen-20 and clever blunted snake catcher hooks which are ideal for pulling a walking stick or walker out from under an assailant” he said.

“Mostly” he added.”Sometimes things can get a bit rough. Have you ever confronted an old lady who has been shopping here since before you were born young man? It can be pretty scary.”

He shivered at some remembered horror. Then pulled himself together.

“Apart from a few broken hips, which we consider acceptable collateral damage, there have been no casualties among the public” he told us.

Only one member of the squad has been injured, when struck by some loony old bat’s umbrella. He is recovering at a secret location.

Twelve Monkeys

It’s happening.

Good for NZ.


Many people consider the things government does for them to be social progress but they regard the things government does for others as socialism.

Earl Warren, Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court (19 Mar 1891-1974) 

How Did I Get Here?

Reprise: First Posted on  by 

A year ago today, I wrote of the Australia Day Breakfast, and that it did not have my official sanction.  I am pleased to report that this year the event is authorised by a permit issued with my signature, and the Shire citizens were served safe, sanctioned sausages. The  Lions can take pride in the knowledge that they are doing the Right Thing.

In that entry a year ago, I casually mentioned that closing the event down might have been my second Great Career-Limiting Move.  Glenn suggested that I relate the story of the first.

Twelve months later, I have finally got around to it.

Considering it now, from here, it was indeed a very significant event in my life.  That one action pretty much defined my life from that time on for good and ill.  It eventually led me down a new path that culminated with me being here, now, alone, and not somewhere else, possibly with someone else, but certainly with a completely different history behind me. Some alternate universes may have in them some bum named Alan sleeping under a bridge somewhere, about to expire of consumption and exposure, and yet another Alan leading a happily united world into an era of peace and plenty, merely because of some other slight twist in the plot of life.

Whatever fanciful tales one might conjure, if I had not been the cheeky bastard I was then, I may not have become the cheeky bastard I am now.  I would now almost certainly be a completely different person.  It is a truism that we are each the sum of our own decisions, experiences and actions.  We reap the consequences in totally unforeseeable ways.  Who can know where a seemingly insignificant deed might lead? There must be any number of pivotal moments in a lifetime and it must be difficult to identify them at the time.

I am still finding out where this particular one is leading me.

In 1983, I was Senior Borough Health Inspector at the Borough of Mount Roskill. The story of how I came to be there is also quite a tale but one mostly already told.

This is the true tale of how I came to leave Mount Roskill Borough.

The Council offices were here:

I loved my job. It was varied, interesting and involved  such fun and useful activities as inspecting food premises, getting landlords to upgrade shoddy rental properties, abating nuisances, resolving neighbourly disputes, investigating noise complaints, air pollution, plumbing and drainage inspections, building inspections, pest control, even a little social work with the elderly and neglected.   One just never knew  where any day would lead.  The major thing that made it worthwhile was that in some way every day I was able to improve or maintain the quality of life of ordinary people.  

As my personal life then was in a shambles, much as it is now, and for very similar reasons, I threw myself pretty whole-heartedly into my work.  Despite working for what was then the lowest-paying local authority in the country (another remarkable similarity, come to think of it) I made a pretty good living because I happily accepted all the after-hours call out work that no one else wanted.  

Mount Roskill had its own traffic department back in those days, before traffic cops were integrated into the Police.  I had  trained with the prosecuting officers, so I was able to prepare my own prosecutions and lay the informations without the help of a solicitor.  The idea was that the Borough Solicitor need not become involved unless the offender gave notice that he intended to defend the charges.  If a guilty plea was entered, I merely had to give formal proof and the job was done.  If they defended, the solicitor took over.  Not that I took many prosecutions anyway.   I always believed in changing behaviour rather than prosecuting, and still do.

I had one particular factory on Carr Road in the industrial/ commercial area interface, which processed timber for furniture and construction.  They worked a lot with a particular New Zealand variety of wood call Tawa.  Tawa dust is a serious irritant and to some folks, an allergen.  It causes a lot of people distress if they get it in the eye or up the nose.   Others just get pissed off when it gets into their laundry or food.  Not unreasonably, I think.

When the cyclone on the roof of the factory started leaking Tawa dust all over the Borough the complaints became overwhelming.  I spent a great deal of time  (fourteen months) trying to get the factory manager to repair the cyclone, and abate the dust nuisance.  This was in the days before the more powerful Clean Air Act was enacted and all I had to work with was the nuisance provisions of the Health Act.  A useful and straightforward piece of legislation, but with puny fines.  All my encouragement, pleading, blandishments and threats made no progress towards resolving the problem.  Finally I made an appointment with the factory manager and went in for a showdown.  Comply or be prosecuted and if the fine does not faze you, maybe the publicity will, because I intend to embarrass the company.

There was a third person at the meeting, someone I had not met before.  He was the owner of the factory himself.  A well-known local multi-millionaire.  This factory was one small part of an enormous empire he controlled.  His name was Keith Hay.  I was hoping for a sympathetic ear from him and a swift order to the manager to sort things out. He turned out to be one of the biggest A-holes I ever had the misfortune to meet (he also happened to be a bible-bashing anti-alcohol, anti-gay, holier-than-thou pompous git).   He sat silently and disdainfully through my discourse on the rights and wrongs of the situation, the action necessary to resolve the matter, and the Court consequences if the company failed to comply.  Finally he spoke. “And just what is the penalty for this heinous crime?”  he asked, heavily accenting the heinous with what I assume was sarcasm.

I remember this so very clearly after all these years.  I still see the arrogant scorn in his face when I replied “The fine is $500 and a there is a further penalty of $50 for every day the offence continues”.   I knew full well that I would be lucky to get a $100 fine and a month’s worth of $10 a day, but that was not the point.

Keith Hay probably knew this too.  He certainly knew that a new cyclone was going to cost him around seven grand.  He turned to the factory manager and said “Pay him out of petty cash” and walked out.

Next day I went to the District Court and laid the Information.

I had every expectation that the matter would be defended of course, but I was prepared.  I had photographs, witnesses, documented complaints and full notes of my attempts to resolve the matter.  The Court likes fair and reasonable, and I had certainly been that.  I was confident I could not lose.   I was not at all surprised when I was called to the Town Clerk’s office and found him waiting with the Borough Solicitor.  I was surprised however when I was informed ” The charges against the company have been dropped, and the matter is closed”.

I asked if the company had agreed to repair or replace the cyclone.

” The charges against the company have been dropped, and the matter is closed”.

I was dismissed from the meeting.  The matter was closed.

I should probably given more thought to the fact that Keith Hay had been the previous Mayor of the Borough, and had served the maximum permitted number of terms.  But if I had, I would probably, in my youth, have considered that this merely meant he would have even more incentive to do the Right Thing.

A week later Keith Hay telephoned me and asked if he could pick me up and show me something.  It was more of an instruction than a request, and I agreed to meet him though he would not elaborate on where he intended to take me.   At the appointed time he picked me up in his Mercedes,  and as he drove he told me his plans for opening a jam factory, and employing mentally handicapped people to work in it.  He seemed to think that would be a good idea and would be well received by the community, the sheltered workshop people and the Government.  I wondered if he was waiting for my approval, or expecting that I would suddenly see what a Good Person he really was, and fall down in adulation.

What he had to show me was everything he owned in the area, from his stately home on Cape Horn Road, overlooking Waikowhai Bay, to his factories, timber yards and house-building operations located from my Borough through New Lynn, Henderson and te Atatu, to Kumeu.

I wondered then  if he was going to drive me to Northland to see the Keith Hay Homessites up that way.   But after Kumeu we turned around and headed back.  I was still not sure why I was there, or what I should be saying, or even thinking.  Was I supposed to be impressed or overawed?  Filled with new-found respect for this great achiever?

Not happening.

I concluded that this was his way of saying “See the power I wield, the lives I hold in my hand.  You cannot fight me.”

I have always been egalitarian, and to me,  Jack is as good as his master.  What you do is what defines you, not what you have.  As he dropped me off I thanked him for the tour, and told him I was impressed with his achievements.  I complimented his lovely home and his magnificent business empire that must be making an enormous profit.  Even his car was pretty cool.  I just could not understand why he could not afford to replace a broken dust  extract system…

After that, life at Mount Roskill was never the same.   Nothing I did was ever quite right again.  I was constantly blotting my copybook somehow.  I would come in from a drainage inspection and get called into the TC’s office.  My boots were dirty or my appearance unbecoming of Council staff.  At other times my car was dirty, my actions inappropriate, I was rude to residents,  my log books were not kept properly, and so on.  And on… I was harassed constantly.  I could not understand at first what was going on, naïve fool that I was.  These days it would be called constructive dismissal.  I tried to ignore it and just threw myself further into my work, but it was becoming increasingly difficult.  Finally even my immediate boss, John the Chief Health Inspector, joined the battle.  On the wrong side.   Should have foreseen that.   One February morning  in 1984 I told him I needed some time off the next day.  My ex (the first one) had called me to point out that we had been separated for well over the requisite time and we could now apply for a divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences.   I had a friend at Henderson District Court, so I had already spoken to him and he told me the Justice would be available 9 am  the very next day.    We just had to tell the Justice of our differences, and it would all be over in a flash.

I made arrangements to meet Els there despite the fact that in those days I still believed no differences are irreconcilable, but she did not agree.   I was eventually to learn  she was right.  But I digress, I was telling of my conversation with John.

John’s response to my request was “You have had too much time off lately,”

I was stunned.  Taken completely aback.  I had not had any time at all off, for any reason, for ages.

“What the fuck do you mean?  I have had no leave at all for nearly a year.  I haven’t even been sick! I was on call at Christmas,  I work on weekends,  I do all the fucking night call outs, I cover your area as well as my own even when you are here,  I have taken over Cecil’s area too, since he  left and was not replaced.  What fucking time have I had off lately – or at all?”

“Don’t talk to me like that.  I want some respect from you” said John.

“You had better fuckin’  earn it then” said I.

I began to suspect, at last, there was a conspiracy to get me to resign.   With a few further choice words I described John’s character, his abilities as a health inspector, his qualities as a leader, and his shoddy treatment of colleagues.  Too loudly.  I was pretty emotional even before starting the conversation.  Now I was raving.   Everyone in the entire wing heard me shouting.

I took the time off next day to meet Els as arranged, and finalise the divorce.  I also took a day or two to grieve again, then returned quietly to work. No one said much, except Lasca Fox, the office lady, who was her usual kindly, motherly self.    I knew by then it was time for me to move on.  I also concluded that I did not want to work ever again for a local authority.  Not after this.  This sort of shit.  Corruption and politics.

The Department of Health did not want ex local authority inspectors in those days, they trained their own.  Where could I go?  I started looking overseas and even applied for a position in the United Arab Emirates.  I got as far as being accepted as an environmental health surveyor there .  I sent off twenty-six black and white passport-size photos of myself for all the documentation I was going to need.  But things dragged on.  If they ever sent me the contract, I never got it.  No matter.  By now I had read an article in the NZ Environmental Health magazine, of which I just  happened to be editor at the time.

The article was by a colleague who had completed a tour as a volunteer with Volunteer Service Overseas (VSO).  It looked interesting.   I thought I could do that and do it well.   I wrote to VSO.  I had an English passport as well as NZ so I thought they could use me.  They replied kindly, saying they could only accept people in country for interviews but  suggested that as I was already in NZ I might like to try contacting their NZ equivalent, VSA  (Volunteer Service Abroad) .  I did.  They seemed pretty keen.  For a few months we exchanged letters about my training, skills and abilities, the positions they had to fill, and considering where I might be of best use.

The answer turned out to be Solomon Islands.  As a water supply engineer.  I signed up and in a short while went through the induction training, and headed out into the Pacific to a country of which I had never heard until then.  For two years I led a team of local workers. We toured Western Province and Choiseul communities and surveyed, designed and built small village water supplies.  I had a wonderful time and some amazing experiences.  I learned more than I taught.  I was doing something useful.  I pulled myself together,  met a young woman and married her.  At the end of my term we returned to NZ where, to my delight, I found that due to a change in Government policy, the Department of Health no longer trained its own inspectors (now called Health Protection Officers) and were in fact desperately short of good staff.  As usual when politicians gainsay the expert advice of their permanent staff, things go awry.  Good for me though.  I had my pick of three offices in the Auckland region and my career was back on track.  I was happier than ever.

For a time.

So it goes.


If you wonder what my downfall looks like:

Cyclone dust extractor

(The Town Clerk is what we called the CEO in those days)

Mount Roskill Borough  no longer exists, having been swallowed up in the political amalgamation that created the great metropolitan City of Auckland.

I was a  long way down a completely different path by the time that happened.

Toilet Rolls

Where have all the toilet rolls gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the toilet rolls gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the toilet rolls gone?
Hoarders bought them every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

I’ve had a colostomy!” said the angry man at the checkout.

“Then you don’t need to wipe your bum!” said the old woman clutching the last pack of toilet tissue.

There’s still plenty of baby wipes.” said I.

There was a stunned silence. Then everyone abandoned the checkout queue and rushed down the aisle.